On Veterans Day, Constitution Daily looks at 10 Presidents who had first-hand experience serving in the military before they were elected to office and became commanders in chief.
Of the 44 men who have served as President (remember, Grover Cleveland served twice) so far, 31 had some type of military experience, either in active service, in the reserves or in a militia. In fact, 12 Presidents held the title of General during their careers.
And among these leaders, three men, George Washington, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower, held the rank of General of the Army, the highest military rank obtainable in their times.
Here is a quick look at these leaders, and a few others with interesting military connections.
1. George Washington was still in the army at the time of this death. George Washington served with distinction in the French and Indian War, and led the Continental Army. But he came out of retirement after he left the White House, in case the United States went to war with France in 1798. He held the rank of senior officer of the Army when he died in 1799.
2. James Monroe, Revolutionary War hero. Monroe was a young officer in Washington’s army when it crossed the Delaware River and attacked Trenton in late 1776. Monroe was seriously wounded leading an assault on an artillery position but survived. His active military service ended a few years later when he decided to study the law under Thomas Jefferson.
3. Andrew Jackson, a fighting President. Jackson served as a messenger during the Revolutionary War at the age of 13 and was captured by the British. He later led regular army and militia forces in three wars, including a victory over the British at New Orleans in 1815 that made him a national hero.
4. William Henry Harrison, mostly known as a war hero. Harrison only served 30 days as President when he died in 1841, but he was the second biggest hero of the War of 1812, next to Jackson. Harrison was the protégé of General Anthony Wayne and his victory over the British at the Battle of the Thames in 1813 was his biggest in the war, not the more famous campaign at Tippecanoe.
5. Abraham Lincoln spent three months in the military. Lincoln volunteered to fight in the Black Hawk War of 1832, and he was elected as captain of his militia unit. Lincoln didn’t see active fighting, but he was tasked to bury the war dead, an experience that deeply influenced the future President.
6. Ulysses Grant, the first President from West Point. That doesn’t sound unique but only three Presidents were educated at military academies: Grant, Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter. Future President Grant served under another future President, Zachary Taylor, during the Mexican-American War, and Grant modeled his leadership skills on his experience with Taylor.
7. William McKinley, the last President to serve in the Civil War. Seven future Presidents served in the military, in some capacity, during the Civil War. McKinley was the last President who was a Civil War veteran. He fought bravely during his time in the Army and had his horse shot out from under him in one skirmish.
8. Harry Truman fought in World War I. Harry Truman was the only President to serve on the battlefield during World War I; Dwight Eisenhower served stateside during the war. Truman commanded an artillery unit in France and saw battle, including offering support for George Patton’s tank brigade.
9. Bush and Kennedy, World War II heroes. Both future Presidents were involved in well-known incidents. John Kennedy’s patrol boat was cut in half by a Japanese ship in the Solomon Islands; George H.W. Bush was shot down in the Pacific, survived and flew a total of 58 combat missions. A total of eight Presidents served in some capacity during World War II.
10. John Adams, unsung hero. Adams didn’t serve in the military during the Revolutionary War, but he played a major role in organizing and equipping the war effort by acting as a de facto Secretary of War. Adams also pushed for Washington to be named as commander of the army. And he fought alongside sailors who captured a British ship near Spain, with his son John Quincy Adams also on board.